CEOs Should Be Skilled in the Art of Execution

June 6, 2016

CEOs Should Be Skilled in the Art of Execution


Great business ideas won’t turn into success stories without great execution. It takes planning, organization and communication, and a CEO with a smart strategic plan and the support of a good team.


Here’s a look at some essential elements of business execution.


Organization


The energy and creativity that can be involved in a major new project or task may cause some to immediately dive in. That may be a natural instinct, but it won’t necessarily help the overall execution. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman advise business leaders to focus on organization, and outlining the proper approach.


“Having the discipline to organize people, assemble resources, and then generate a plan that others can commit to will collectively improve execution,” they explain. “So will making clear who is doing what; we have learned that when everyone is collectively responsible, that no one is responsible. Providing others with clear direction and a sense of connection to the strategy of the organization helps people understand how the work they are doing dovetails with the organization’s mission.”


Priorities


Along with the organization process, CEOs and business leaders will have to rank the items of importance and discuss how they relate to deadlines. As Jesse Torres examines in a story for Entrepreneur.com, having more priorities than necessary is a recipe for failure.


“Establish only one priority at a time along with supporting initiatives,” he writes. “For example, a priority might be penetrating a new territory. Supporting initiatives could be leasing an office, hiring staff and initiating a marketing plan. Having too many priorities is like trying to keep too many balls in the air. Then it’s problematic if only one gets focused on. Chances are good that eventually all the balls fall to the ground.”


Communication


The leadership team’s communication with employees should be consistent for the sake of positive execution. As Torres explains, a lack of continuous communication about goals can allow employees and leaders to “veer off course.”


“This leads to poor results, which can have a disastrous effect on an organization,” he writes. “To ensure that the entire organization keeps in sync with the entrepreneur’s vision and strategic plan, the staff should gather periodically for different types of update meetings. Daily huddles should take place within operational groups at the start of the day and last no more than 15 minutes. Such daily meetings aim to ensure that everyone is on the same page and aware of important recent developments such as performance updates, price changes, new products or media reports.”


Strategy


A well-thought-out strategy will include the input of the leadership team and others. One of the benefits of that is the opportunity for constructive debate, which can then boost the execution. Jim Alampi, managing director of a business coaching and leadership company, explores this in a story for Vistage.com.


“The trap many CEOs and executive teams fall into is believing that sound strategic thinking means coming up with a single ‘right’ answer that goes into a box on a form,” he says. “Or, that once an answer has been put into a box, that the task is complete. In reality, sound strategic thinking is not discrete. It is iterative, because all organizations exist within dynamic marketplaces. The key is to do the best strategic thinking that can be done at the time, and then execute.”


Keep it Relatively Simple


Here’s another take on strategy: It doesn’t necessarily have to be incredibly complex. The more complicated the strategy, the greater the chance for faulty execution, according to Jim Schleckser in a story for Inc.com.


“The best firms find a simple strategy, perhaps even uninspired,” he writes. “But they are relentless on execution, refining and honing their ability to do it perfectly every time. … When it comes to evaluating the strength of a strategy, you need to weigh how feasible it is that your organization will actually be able to execute on it. … Execution will always eat strategy for lunch. You’d rather have a B class strategy with A class execution every time.”


Feedback


The development and encouragement of the staff surrounding a business leader is also critical to executing a plan well. In the Harvard Business Review story, Zenger and Folkman write that “intrinsic motivation” outweighs goals and deadlines, and that the best executors are those that focus on feedback.


“Specifically, the leaders who rate most highly are those who deliver critical feedback by taking the time to listen to and understand their employees’ perspectives, rather than simply dropping a difficult message on someone and ending the conversation as quickly as possible,” they explain about their study. “But where we really saw a major difference was with positive feedback. Specifically, we found that leaders who are great at execution give a lot more positive recognition.”


Team Unity


Having an enthusiastic team will go a long way toward a project’s execution. As Zenger and Folkman explain, these team members are often motivated by the boss, but also each other, which then leads to more production. Granted, not everyone will whistle while they work, and conflicts are inevitable. The leader that can step in and resolve those issues can keep the team moving in the right direction.


“That’s because many of the problems within a team come from differences and conflict between team members,” they write. “On high-performing teams, team members trust each other and conflict is constructive, not destructive or personal.”


Evaluation


Once the project is complete, it’s important to step back and examine the process and the outcome. Regularly scheduled meetings — monthly or quarterly — that go into in-depth discussions can set the team up for future improvements, according to Torres’ story for Entrepreneur.com.


“The periodic strategic meetings should discuss strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOT),” he writes. “They can help executives determine the strategy’s soundness in light of changes within the organization, industry and economy. The meetings should aim to exploit strengths and opportunities while mitigating weaknesses and threats.”

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